Featured, Portland, Uncategorized

Pride In Portland

Why is Portland, Oregon all caught up in it’s Naked Bike Ride and Pride Parade this weekend? Is this just Portlandia showing off it’s “keeping it weird” street cred of blatant self-expression?

No, it’s not. And here’s why.

Portland wasn’t always Portlandia and home of the keeping it weird. Far from it. The Portland I knew growing up here was a blue collar, labor movement leaning small town with a me too attitude toward it’s bigger siblings from the North, Seattle and from the South, San Francisco. We still had that frontier, salt-of-the-earth type spirit in our cultural DNA and were known as generally friendly down-to-earth people who lived in a city nestled in the Pacific Wonderland. With a state economy reliant on the timber industry collapsing because of the wholesale Asian export market, Portland was a dreary place for a dream in the world of 1980’s Reganomics. High unemployment and high interest rates ensured young people would take their leave of Portland and run off to bigger and more reliable green (as in cash) pastures. *See bigger siblings to North and South. As with most economic meltdowns, public discontent grew, especially among working class young people- and then something else, more sinister thrived here for a time.

Hate crime.

Whether this neo-nazi element was imported or home grown isn’t important. Portland had a major problem with skin heads, neo-nazi’s and a very vocal right wing anti-gay minority who pelleted our initiative ballots with complete bullshit for many years, with the intention to violate the basic human rights of people living here. Muscle and a strong political movement make for powerfully scary bedfellows in an bad economy of discontent. And the streets of 1980’s Portland were scary. I had my own personal run-in with skinheads on one Friday night out, that involved a high speed car chase. It seems these 5 Portland brownshirts in their pickup truck decided my well dressed friend and I (it was the 80’s after all) were gay and they were going to f**king kill us! Great. Lucky for us they were unarmed. And who cares if we weren’t gay? I’ll never forget how that felt and wonder if these scumbags went on to find other, not-so-lucky people to prey on.

And others were indeed, not so lucky.

People beaten to death on these streets of Portland. National news. Federal hate crime cases. Hard to believe it happened here, isn’t it? But it did. This wasn’t 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama this was Portland, and culturally along with economically we were about to be a ghost town. Aside from the grave social stigma of national headlines, the business impact was devastating for a city wanting to climb out of a major economic decline. Pull down the shades, close the doors, turn out the lights- Portland is now closed for business.

It took time and major leadership to get Portland back on track. Economic leaders, political leaders, community leaders and a whole lot of unsung-hero leaders, that played a part in pulling us back from this cultural chasm of despair. You might think I’m exaggerating a bit, but I’m not. It was really, really bad. And when I reflect on this history of Portland I am so thankful we are where we are now.

We survived.

And I’ll argue that we thrive right now in 2012 because we aspire to create a culture that questions conformity to the antiquated and bad ideas of our past. Sure, we have problems and a long journey ahead, but the 21st century is really only just beginning. Today I take Pride in Portland. It’s a celebration of who we are without question, persecution or fear.

That is our strength.



4 thoughts on “Pride In Portland

  1. Simone says:

    Unfortunately, it seems were are turning back to that period in the 80s (I remember it as well), in part fueled by this economic downturn. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country – and some of the highest gas prices, too. Vancouver, just across the Columbia, is a breeding ground for neo-nazis and others of the racist stripe (who enjoy toting their weapons into Starbucks – Google it). Vancouver also voted for a Tea Party representative in Jaime Herrera. Not the most progressive area.

    This economic imbalance also means a lack of affordable housing. While hipsters swell in the Pearl District, crime escalates in the suburbs. I was disgusted by a recent article in the Oregonian about how Lake Oswego seeks to keep the rabble out – and the lack of diversity in those areas is telling. We know the divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse. Portland isn’t safe from it, either.

    Yes, we have made progress since those nightmare days, but it doesn’t take much to send us back there and if the economy doesn’t improve, and I mean REALLY improve, not the feel-good messages out of DC that no one really believes, the unbalance will continue to fuel the rage entitlement of those poor, mostly white, kids who let ignorance get the better of them. The divide between whites and non-whites still exists here, only nowadays the biggest racist issue is fueled against Hispanics.

    It certainly doesn’t help that, over the years, the Portland Police (in particular) have become a shoot-first, ask questions later organization – who think nothing of beating up unarmed citizens (during Occupy events). This kind of open bullying of citizenry (‘Behave or your next’) does not speak well of our community or what it has been and what might yet happen. We live in a country where the extremes of the religious right have become galvanized by the gay rights movement, by the spread of fear culture post September 11 and, worse still, the so-called ‘war on women’ that is gaining momentum across the country. This past week, in the state of Michigan, in an effort to suppress conversation about their draconian anti-choice bill, two female representatives were silenced off the floor – effectively denying their constituency a voice.

    I’m proud of my gay family and those that support us across this country, but I fear there is a dark time coming that no amount of common sense will prevent. I hope I’m wrong and that these small-minded types will prove to be a minority and that compassion and a sense of the humane will prevail. It does seem likely though, that something rather horrific will occur before that happens. There is so much indifference by those who feel they are ‘unaffected’ or outside the issues, that it takes a cataclysm to wake them up.

    I do hope I’m wrong, mostly because I do believe we are capable of so much that is good. We can turn anything around if we choose, our sense(s) of humor can see us through and it would be such a wonderful thing if we truly become a society that celebrates the best we can be and not the worst.

  2. Wow. Great writing; Great post; Great assessment; and, great history lessons.

    Some of us were just talking about these troublesome 80s over on the “dead memories Portland” Facebook group. A coworker of mine was the paramedic who tried to save the life of a black man beaten by skin heads. Meanwhile, less prominent in the news, paramedics regularly treated beaten gay men found near the South Park Blocks. This was a regular occurrence. But back then, only racial minorities were protected.

    Thanks Mike. Again, great writing!

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